Phosphorus, the practically forgotten mineral, can make the difference between healthy and decaying teeth, it was recently reported to a meeting of the American Institute of Oral Biology by Dr. Robert S. Harris, the brilliant nutritionist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has long been known, of course, that phosphorus is one of the dietary essentials, required in substantial amounts in everyone's food consumption. But it has also long been taken for granted that everybody gets enough phosphorus in his daily diet. Consequently there has been little investigation of the metabolic roles of this mineral and even less is known about how much of it is required for optimal intake.
It came as something of a bombshell among the oral biologists, therefore, when Dr. Harris Pointed out that on the basis of extensive studies he has made to date, the phosphorus content of the average diet would have to be doubled to achieve the maximum beneficial effect of this mineral on the teeth. "This is really not excessive," he pointed out, "for one would have to triple the phosphorus content of white flour and white rice to raise the phosphorus to whole cereal levels."
This is no more than a restatement and confirmation from a top scientist of something that Prevention has been telling its readers far 15 years. With regard to the refining of grain, we have concentrated more on the loss of vitamin E than the depletion of minerals, simply because vitamin E is so hard to obtain from other sources. But we have frequently taken care to point out that such essential minerals as phosphorus, and magnesium as well, are stripped away from grains when flour and cereals are made, leaving the foods empty of everything but carbohydrate calories without the minerals and vitamins needed to metabolize them properly. What was new and extremely important about Dr. Harris' paper was that it gave us additional information reinforcing our growing belief that phosphorus plays its chief role in relation to other minerals, and that without enough phosphorus in the system, none of the other important minerals will be efficiently utilized.
Dr. Harris pointed out that, as far as he could determine, phosphorus reduces caries by an initial demineralizing and a subsequent remineralizing of the tooth, in the course of which its mineral structure is altered, becoming far stronger and more resistant to the causes of decay. As such studies emerge, it becomes more and more likely they will reveal that much of our health depends on the ability of phosphorus to attract other minerals and bond itself to them into compounds known as phosphates. It has long been known that calcium phosphate is readily absorbed into the system, while calcium alone is not. That is why we have long encouraged the use of bone meal, in which calcium and phosphorus occur as a phosphated compound in the exact proportions in which bone can best use them, in preference to any other dietary or pharmaceutical source of calcium. But now it seems evident that phosphorus is related not only to the proper utilization of calcium, but also to the utilization of every mineral that is important to the health of our bodies.
We recently received a letter from Charles B. Branson, D.D.S., a dental investigator in Greeley, Colorado, discussing the great need for all of us to have more phosphorus. Among many data that his letter presents, Dr. Branson points out that as early as the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which dates back to the 1920's, it was already known that phosphorus deficiency is found in rickets, in nervous ailments, in impotency, in paralysis agitans, locomotor ataxia, chronic eczema, diabetes, acne indurata and lymphadenoma. This does not mean that all these afflictions are caused directly by a phosphorus deficiency. But it may very well mean that they are caused by a deficiency in one or more other minerals or nutrients that cannot be properly used by the human system when the phosphorus supply is inadequate.
According to Dr. Branson's letter:
"Phosphorus not only plays a most fundamental role in the building of both bones and teeth, but in the construction, nourishment and the constant regeneration of the brain, the nerves, the arteries, all organs, and even every individual cell of the body. Furthermore, phosphorus plays a vital role in the metabolism of all proteins, fats and all carbohydrates. It appears to activate the vitamin and enzyme activity, even forming co-enzymes in such metabolism. Phosphorus is a chemical regulator of the bodily energy, storing energy and releasing energy similar to an electric battery. Furthermore, phosphorus serves as a transport in carrying nourishment to every cell, through the phosphates existing in the blood-stream.
"Thus phosphorus appears to be the life essence in all seeds and all sperm of plant and animal life respectively, as well as all metabolism. When there is a serious deficiency of either phosphorus or calcium, it is evident that not only may the system draw upon the stored reserves within the bones for supplying other more urgent needs elsewhere, but it may draw calcium from the teeth as in caries; phosphorus from the arteries as in hardening of the arteries; from the nerves to thus result in nervous tensions and other nervous ailments; and may lead to mental disturbances when the brain fails to obtain a large proportion of phosphorus.
"It thus appears that where there is an adequate level of such phosphorus available with a calcium balance, regeneration of all cells and all tissues proceed normally; but in absence of such an adequate level, faulty metabolism and degeneration may then tend to occur in humans as well as in plant and animal life as disclosed by agricultural scientists."
Dr. Branson is undoubtedly right so far as his information goes. We believe, however, that he may be oversimplifying in limiting the various states of health or degeneration that he has specified to the condition of the calcium-phosphorus balance. This particular balance is enormously important, as we have been telling the world for 15 years. It is not, however, the sum total of our mineral needs.
With regard to the teeth, there are many studies that show the importance of minerals other than phosphorus for the strength and caries resistance of teeth. The study of Dr. Robert Harris, quoted above, indicated as much when he pointed out that phosphorus has its beneficial effect by modifying the mineral structure of the tooth. It is quite conceivable that the phosphorus itself is not even of basic importance in the tooth structure and that its true role is entirely connected with its faculty of bonding itself to other minerals and thus encouraging their incorporation in body structures that otherwise would reject them. There is very good reason to believe that the most important single mineral directly concerned with the strength of the tooth structure is magnesium. We have already described a report of some dental investigations made in New Zealand at the University of Otago and reported in Nature (April 29, 1961).
In the study cited, it was shown that a group of caries resistant teeth contained on the average twice as much magnesium as those in a comparable group that were caries-prone. There can be little doubt that it was actually the magnesium that strengthened the teeth, yet the magnesium could not have gotten into the teeth to strengthen them if it had not been transported by being bonded to the alkaline phosphate.
Calcium, which is the primary mineral in teeth, is also dependent on phosphorus. When there is a phosphorus deficiency, the teeth tend to decalcify. Additional replacement calcium can be carried into the teeth, but only when bonded to phosphorus.
Thus we see that for the best possible tooth health, we must consider a number of trace minerals and also the primary mineral triad, calcium-magnesium-phosphorus. These minerals are so interdependent on one another that a copious supply of any one of them will automatically create a deficiency in the other two, unless the other two are equally well supplied in the diet.
And yet, as complex as this nutrition problem may sound, it is really a simple one. By taking supplements of bone meal, we can get a rich supply of every single mineral that our health requires, although not quite enough magnesium. When we add dolomite tablets to the bone meal, we are gaining still more calcium but a calcium that this time is extremely rich in magnesium. In this simple way we can assure ourselves of an ample supply of every mineral required in our diets, in the proper proportions and able to undergo the proper complexing operations, for the health of our teeth, our bones, and all of our soft tissues as well. What could be easier, or bring greater rewards?
This page was first uploaded to The Magnesium Web Site on January 3, 2001